Even without Faith, Religion Must Be Returned to the Public Square

Sept. 8 2017

Commenting on the challenges Western society faces as religion goes into decline, Jonathan Sacks urges both believers and non-believers to keep religion part of public life.

[I]f you are a regular goer to church, synagogue, or other place of worship, you are more likely to help a stranger in need, give a meal to the hungry, shelter someone who’s homeless, find somebody a job, give to charity (whether the cause is religious or secular), and get involved in voluntary work. The best predictor is not class, ethnicity, or education. The best indicator is: do you or don’t you go regularly to a house of worship.

[The eminent sociologist] Robert Putnam refined this thesis and said that it doesn’t matter what you believe, but whether you go. An atheist who went regularly to church is more likely to be an altruist than a deeply-believing believer who keeps to himself. So if you’re an atheist in synagogue, you’re probably a decent kind of guy. We have lots of atheists in synagogue. One of them, the great, late, much-lamented philosopher at Columbia University, Sidney Morgenbesser . . . said when he was ill, “I don’t know why God is so angry with me just because I don’t believe in Him.”

If atheists are to attend houses of worship, writes Sacks, believers must not seal themselves off:

In today’s world, religion can do one of three things. Number one, it can attempt to conquer society. That is the radical Islamist version. Number two, it can withdraw from society. That is the ultra-Orthodox option or [what some Christians call] the “Benedict option.” Or number three, it can attempt to re-inspire society. . . .

If we adopt the first option, the radical anti-Western option, we will move straight into the dark ages. If we adopt the second option, we will survive the dark ages, but they will still be dark. But if we adopt the third option of being true to ourselves and yet engaged in the public square, we have a chance of avoiding the dark [ages]. . . .

So what do I mean by religion in the public square? I mean simply religion as a consecration of the bonds that connect us, religion as the redemption of our solitude, religion as loyalty and love, religion as altruism and compassion, religion as covenant and commitment, religion that consecrates marriage, that sustains community and helps reweave the torn fabric of society. That kind of religion is content to be a minority. Jews have been a minority wherever we went for 2,000 years. [Even when its adherents belong to] a minority, religion can be a huge influence.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Standpoint

More about: Decline of religion, Religion & Holidays, Secularism, Synagogue

The U.S. Must Maintain the Kurdish Enclave in Eastern Syria

Aug. 16 2018

Presently only two rebel enclaves remain in Syria, and both are dependent on outside powers: one in the northwest, under Turkish control, and an area in the east controlled by the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Only by continuing its support for the latter can America prevent Iranian domination of Syria, writes Jonathan Spyer. Officials in Washington have made various statements suggesting that the White House has no intention of ceding the country to Iran, but haven’t clarified what this means in practice:

Actions . . . are a better guide than sentiments. And it appears that the SDF leaders remain skeptical regarding America’s long-term plans. Last week, the first direct negotiations took place between their representatives and those of the Assad regime, in Damascus.

It is not quite clear where things are heading. But Israel’s interest in this is clear. Maintenance of the east Syrian enclave and the [U.S.] base in Tanf means keeping a substantial physical obstacle to the Iranian hope for a contiguous corridor [connecting it to Lebanon via Syria and Iraq]. It would also prevent an overall Iranian triumph in the war and give the West a place at the table in any substantive political negotiation over Syria’s future. . . .

Specifically, efforts should be made to ensure a formal U.S. declaration of a no-fly zone for regime and regime-allied aircraft east of the Euphrates. This move, reminiscent of the no-fly zone declared over Iraqi Kurdistan after the Gulf War of 1991, would with one stroke ensure the continued viability of the SDF-controlled area. There should also be a formal recognition of the SDF zone, or the “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria,” as it is formally known. This entity is not seeking independence from Damascus, so Western concerns regarding the formal breakup of Syria need not be raised by such a move.

As the strategic contest between Iran and its allies and the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East moves into high gear, it is essential that the West maintain its alliances and investments and behaves, and is seen to behave, as a credible and loyal patron and ally.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Kurds, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy